Boondocking sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? The dreamy magic of having America’s most iconic landscapes to call your backyard. It’s freedom to escape the rules, costs and noise associated with staying in a campground.
So, why haven’t you tried it? You’re too afraid of the “scary” side of boondocking, right? And that’s understandable. If you haven’t gotten your feet wet yet, your first time can be intimidating. As a two-year exclusive boondocker, I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t have to be scary at all. Read on and let me help you get out there on your first boondocking excursion.
There won’t be power outlets where you’re going, so you will either need a generator or solar power to charge your batteries. You also can’t use your 120-volt system if you don’t have an inverter or a generator. A 120-volt system powers your household outlets, microwave and air conditioner.
If you have solar power, do you have enough to get you through your stay? The best way to find out is to only use your solar while you are at a campground. Unplug and go about your business to see how many days it takes to drain your batteries to 50 percent of full charge. Even if you don’t have solar, you may have a large battery bank and use only a few amps throughout the day. If you are super light with power usage, you might last for days. If you have enough solar, you can stay off the grid indefinitely. Check before you leave; then plan accordingly.
If your RV has a built-in generator, experiment by unplugging from shore power to make sure you can keep your batteries charged up, and/or at least keep them from running down past the 50-percent mark.
Finding Boondocking Locations
There are multiple sources for finding a good spot to legally boondock. Here is a list of my favorites for beginners.
Campendium.com: This is the easiest, most comprehensive site to find your boondocking spot, especially if you are new to boondocking. I like it because the reviews are from people who have boondocked there before, usually complete with photos. They share information about cell service, accessibility, cleanliness and more. You can assess your needs and decide from the reviews if it’s the right spot for you. Simply search for an area, and check the “free” box under the “price” drop-down menu.
FreeCampsites.net: This site isn’t as user-friendly, in my opinion, and it has a few reviews that are less comprehensive. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if a campsite is only for tents and cars, or if it can also accommodate RVs.
Allstays App: This is my least favorite resource, and I refer to it as a caveman way to find a boondocking spot. There aren’t many facts about the locations, and there are no photos. If you find a location you’d like to visit on this site, double-check with the other two sites listed to find more information. You might find a decent overnight spot on AllStays if cell coverage is not a necessity.
The most readily available overnight parking spots are at truck stops and Walmart, and you can find them on AllStays, which is a paid app. Out of courtesy, before you stay overnight at a truck stop or Walmart, always ask permission from management.
When in Doubt, Scout
This is an important part of boondocking. Unless you read reviews and/or check a satellite view on a map, you could end up in a jam if there are no parking spots available on the road and nowhere to turn around.
Having a tow car, motorbike or bicycle will come in handy for this purpose if you have a motorhome. If you have a trailer, you can simply unhitch nearby at the beginning of the road and take your tow vehicle to scout. No one has ever stolen my RV while I was scouting; however, if this is a concern, put a lock on your hitch before you leave.
Some areas have expansive open space where you can easily turn around, but you may find many places where you cannot.
Is boondocking safe? Safety is a huge concern for most beginners. The most common answer is yes, it is safe, but it also depends on the location. From my boondocking experience, even in extremely remote areas of the Western U.S., usually there are other campers around, sometimes within eyesight. These people are out there for the same reasons you are—to recreate.
However, if you are boondocking on the outskirts of a large city, you could run into seedy people or dangerous areas. It’s all about using your head and good common sense. Don’t stay anywhere that gives you a bad feeling. If you boondock in the Eastern U.S., there is less wide-open space and fewer boondocking options. Understandably, where there is more civilization, there is more potential for crime. Still, the odds that you are going to be a victim of violence or theft is extremely low as long as you use your head and street smarts.
I have never felt safer than when I am out in the middle of a valley, desert or forest, boondocking with the most beautiful backdrops as my backyard.
Water and Dumping Your Tanks
Finding water and dump stations can be hit-or-miss. This takes a little detective work at times. Here are the main resources you can use to meet your needs.
The website campendium.com has a section at the bottom, called “quick links,” where dump stations are listed. Or, select “dump station” from the “category” drop-down menu. There isn’t a large selection available, but they are constantly expanding the list.
Campgrounds (both private and public) are excellent places to dump and replenish water. Be sure to call ahead to make sure that these amenities are available for purchase by noncampers. Usually there is a nominal fee to use their dump station.
The AllStays app has a filter you can select that shows dump station locations. You’ll find that some rest stops, gas stations, public parks and most campgrounds have dump stations.
The Sanidumps app is helpful; however, recently it has been down due to the developer not updating it. They are working on it, but currently it is still not useable with the newest version of iOS. If you have an older version on your phone, you may still use it as of this writing. You can always check out the Sanidumps website (www.sanidumps.com) from a desktop computer or a smart phone.
If you feel like you consume too much water to boondock, there’s an easy solution. Purchase collapsible water bags or hard plastic jugs. Fill them while you are filling your RV fresh water tank. Assuming your RV has a fresh-water fill port, make sure you have a nozzle you can use to transfer the water from the container into your rig. You can also use your RV’s water pump to transfer water from the portable jugs to your water tank. (Here are links to instructional online videos: https://youtu.be/4i71iDM8XH0 and https://youtu.be/aS37MNnYG9w.)
This spare water can stretch out your boondocking for a few days, or longer, if you conserve water. You really don’t need to shower every day, especially in dry climates.
Just Do It!
Simply getting out there is half the battle. I promise it’s worth it for the peace and quiet, the incredible scenery and the freedom that comes with boondocking.
Try it once and the next time will be easier and much less scary. And, the best part is that, most of the time, it’s totally free.
Calming Your Fears
Animals are waiting to attack me in the wild!
Generally, wild animals are more afraid of you than you are of them. However, don’t tempt a hungry critter to visit your campsite by leaving food lying around.
Someone will steal my RV or my belongings!
Be as cautious as you would while camping in any other area by stowing away your valuables and locking your RV when you are away.
A bogeyman out there will get me!
This was my fear on my first night of boondocking, and I’m still here.
If you use common sense and the same precautionary measures you would take at home or in an RV park, your boondocking experience should be worry-free.